Saturday, December 21, 2019

Now You See Them by Elly Griffiths: Reading Room Review

I can't think of any of my reading friends who aren't familiar with my love for Elly Griffiths' writing and my ardent devotion to her character Ruth Galloway of the Ruth Galloway series, and a good many of them have responded to my enthusiasm and started reading that series, too. Now, I think they are beginning to realize that I am also an advocate for Griffiths' Magic Men Mysteries (Stephens and Mephisto series). Unlike the present-day setting of the Ruth Galloway series, the Magic Men Mysteries are set in the past, 50s and now 60s in Brighton, England. Now You See Them (book #5) takes place ten years after the 4th book, The Vanishing Box. The characters go from December 1953 to May 1964, so they are quite naturally living different lives in Now You See Them. I feel it necessary to warn those readers just starting the series or not up to #5 yet that it's impossible to talk about this new book without spoilers to the previous ones.

So, May 1964 sees our characters in new phases of their lives. Edgar Stephens is now Superintendent in the police force in Brighton, and he is married to the former DS Emma Holmes, with three children. Max Mephisto has spent the last decade in Hollywood, becoming a movie star and marrying one of his leading ladies, with whom he has two young children. Of course, Max already had a daughter, the beautiful and talented Ruby, who now, at 34, stars in one of Britain's most popular television shows, Ruby Magic. The regular character roster is rounded out with Detective Inspector Bob Willis, who worked with Emma as the lesser skilled of the two, and the newcomer, nineteen-year-old Meg Connolly, who seems to be following in Emma's footsteps as a crack detective with only a WPC rank so far. 

The funeral in Brighton of Edgar's and Max's former Magic Men comrade The Great Diablo, aka Stanley Parks, has reunited the group of friends and colleagues. Max and Diablo had continued their talents at trickery and magic employed in their WWII missions in their chosen careers on the stage, and Edgar had continued the practice of serving his country or fellow citizens by choosing the police force. Now, after their paths diverged, the bond still remains a strong one. Ruby, who was close to Diablo, too, calling him Uncle Stan, is attending the funeral in all her glamorous glory, enjoying her celebrity status wherever she goes. Emma is a bit wistful as she reminisces about her past days on the police force when she felt more alive than staying home and raising children. But, life does go on, after the deaths of loved ones and the life choices one makes. That doesn't mean, of course, that people can't make new life choices. 

While at the reception after the funeral, word is brought to DI Willis and Superintendent Stephens of a missing sixteen-year-old girl from Roedean, a school for girls where Emma had attended. The girl is a keen fan of the American movie star Bobby Hambro, who is currently in London, so it's thought she might have gone there. With the discovery that two other young women have gone missing, the theory that the disappearances are abductions rather than voluntary departure becomes the prevailing course. After one of the girls is found dead on a seaside walkway, there's no doubt that someone is kidnapping them. When Ruby goes missing, too, Max is once more back to involvement in a case Edgar is investigating. And, Emma's unrest at being out of the loop in the intensity of police work has her secretly working with her journalist friend Sam Collins to uncover the person behind the abductions. Emma is eager to show that her detecting skills are as strong as ever, and she seems set on besting her husband and the new police woman, Meg Connally. While Emma's motives may be a bit skewed, at heart she wants to solve this case and bring the young women home safely. It seems a bit like old times with the involvement on both sides of the investigation, one in danger and others desperately trying to bring resolution before tragedy can strike again. 

The characters and the story are, as always, exceptional in this series, and Brighton seems the perfect setting in which to view the history of change in Britain. Elly Griffiths does such an outstanding job of weaving the history into the story and into the character's lives. Emma's dissatisfaction at being unable to pursue police work is due to her being a married woman, something the police force didn't allow. The leap to the 1960s was a brilliant move on the author's part, as it allows the many changes that were churning for not only women, but culture itself, to be brought forth. It allows the characters to grow in ways that only the 60s could let them. Griffiths' organic insertion of The Beatles and the Mods and screaming fans gives the sense of time and place that every great read with a historical setting demands. That actual events are given stage in the story really reinforces the authenticity. The Brighton clash of the Mods and the Rockers that took place on that Banking Holiday weekend was deftly used as the climax to the rising action of the story and its resolution. Griffiths' writing chops combine this history and story and character relationships into a thrilling read that keeps a pace of unsurpassed excellence. A series should always be evolving, and with Now You Seem Them, Elly Griffiths has shown that she meets that challenge head on.

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